Just a week after Australian football was left on tenterhooks after he fell, untouched, to the SCG surface with what appeared to be a potentially serious injury; Terry Antonis could be set to line up against Central Coast Mariners this Sunday.
Antonis fell to the turf in the 76th minute of Victory’s clash with Sydney FC at the SCG last Saturday, sparking a firestorm surrounding the patchwork nature of a surface that was clearly not suitable for football.
Sydney FC’s meeting with Perth Glory on 18 April was subsequently moved to Jubilee Stadium in the wake of the incident, and the possibility of the SCG playing host to any finals hosted by the Harboursiders was quickly discounted.
Thankfully, Antonis – who returned to Melbourne in the wake of the Big Blue instead of travelling onwards to China for Victory’s 4-0 defeat at the hands of Guangzhou Evergrande in the Asian Champion’s League – was cleared of structural damage to his leg during the week and could potentially even see the field in Victory’s clash with Central Coast Mariners on Sunday afternoon.
“He’s been running the last two or three days, so I’d like to think so,” Victory Head Coach Kevin Muscat said of Antonis’ potential inclusion in Sunday’s squad.
“Everything from the medical department has cleared him from any damage whatsoever so it’s now down to Terry.
“(When) he did go down, he was injured in that same knee (as previous injuries) and was just coming back from that so, at that moment of time, we could sense an air of maybe shock… not knowing the extent of the damage.
“So, getting him back and getting him scanned there’s no structural damage at all so I’m hopeful that he’ll be back ASAP.”
Muscat then went on the shine a light on two other Victory stars under an injury cloud: Raul Baena and Lawrence Thomas.
“Raul’s been training all week,” Muscat explained.
“Raul we’re really optimistic about. He’s been running and training all week.
“Lawrence travelled and he’s been making progress. He’s still wasn’t 100% on Wednesday so he’ll be assessed to see if he’s available.”
In theory, Victory’s meeting with the Mariners this weekend should prove relatively straight forward.
The A-League cellar dwellers, following their win over Newcastle Jets in interim boss Alen Stajcic’s first game in charge, have lost two straight games and were comprehensively outclassed against Perth Glory last week.
Brisbane Roar’s upset victory over Wellington Phoenix on Friday night also means that they are all but certain to claim the wooden spoon once again.
Yet, in trademark fashion, Muscat refused to concede that Victory was taking anything for granted against the Mariners or that Victory’s mid-week ACL tie would provide any sense of hangover.
“That would be the biggest insult to ourselves and to the opposition,” he said.
“(A) new manager has come in and they’ve certainly altered the way they play. We’ve done our research and preparing well.
“Ultimately, we got back last night so preparing well for what’s going to be a very difficult game.
“We’ve got to be honest with ourselves. We were comprehensively outclassed (against Guangzhou Evergrande) and unfortunately almost from start to finish having conceded two goals in the first 10 minutes, that’s a huge mountain to climb.
“We accept that we were comprehensively outclassed and outplayed.”
Regardless of how Victory does approach the Mariners, three points will be vital for Muscat’s men if they are to retain any hope of finishing second on the A-League table at the end of the season, with four points separating them from second-placed Sydney FC after last week’s Big Blue.
Though Muscat was at pains to clarify that he accepted the final result, the 45-year-old remains livid with the surface that both sets of players were presented with.
“The Sydney game,” he began.
“There were some comments made during the week that were self-interest comments.
“We were outplayed in Sydney in the first half, we dominated in our play in the second half.
“Maybe I analyse and look at games differently when I try to remove any emotion.
“We conceded late and got what we deserve because you concede two goals and score one, that’s what you deserve.
“But in terms of performance, we dominated them in the second half as they dominated us in the first half.
“I just feel it’s (the SCG surface) been swept under the carpet, to be honest.
“What I’m asking now if the process is correct – which is staggering considering the game – why don’t they keep playing there if the process was correct? It was passed fit by two independent expert people?
“My question is how do you become an expert? What qualifications do you need? How do you qualify to become an expert on deciding if the surfaces are safe and fit?
“And who are they? Because whoever they are should never work in our code again.
“Name them. And they should never work in our code again.”
For their part, the Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust on Monday released a statement defending the turf.
“The incident took place two metres off the SCG’s wicket square on mature turf that had been replaced in February,” the statement read.
“As is normal practice, the field has been inspected by independent experts in the past two weeks, with satisfactory results recorded for all codes.
“Hardness levels are consistent across the entire field and well within acceptable levels. No issues were raised during inspections of the field of play by match or team officials before the recent training sessions and fixtures.
“The SCG wicket block, and its Bulli Soil foundation, has been in situ since 1888.
“The SCG will continue to work closely with its sports partners and the governing bodies to ensure the best possible playing surface for all codes.
“The SCG will also work closely with Sydney FC and the FFA to address any concerns prior to future matches.”